By John Tauzel, Dairy One Director of Business Development

While most farmers don’t think of the words “imagination” and “manure” as going together (unless they are imagining life without manure), new technologies have provided exciting options for farmers to better utilize this unique resource. In many cases, this often means finding new financial benefits from manure. This was the exciting take-away at a panel held during Dairy Farmers of America’s (DFA’s) annual meeting, during which participants reimagined all aspects of the dairy. The panel, moderated by Dairy One’s CEO Jamie Zimmerman, explored how some farms have used emerging technologies to expand their farm business. Here are some of the key takeaways from the panel:

Dairy One is working to help farms enhance nutrient management.

Dairy One is leading innovation in helping farmers manage farm nutrients. Jamie discussed two exciting initiatives being developed by Dairy One’s Agricultural Consulting Services (ACS) unit. ACS helps farms develop comprehensive crop plans. In the 2015 crop season, ACS lead on-farm trials to determine whether the Adapt-N model developed by Cornell University accurately helps farms determine the correct amount of nitrogen to side-dress corn in order to maximize financial returns to farms. ACS is also developing new technology to help farms better record and track how manure is applied in real-time on the field. Such technology will help ensure each acre receives the correct amount of manure based on the farms nutrient management plan.

Nutrient Management can help make space on the farm for the next generation.

Panelist Travis Fogler talked about how Stoneyvale Farm in Maine has used manure management as a new source of revenue. Surrounded by potato farms, the farm is land constrained. In order for the next generation to return home, Stoneyvale needed a business that didn’t require adding more cows. The answer was the installation of an anaerobic digester which produces biogas from manure. This biogas is then used to fire a generator and produce electricity. The electricity gets sold to energy companies, providing revenue to the farm. The digester uses manure from the farm’s 1,000 head of milking cows as well as food waste from across the region. The farm is paid to take the food waste (another revenue source) and feeding the food waste to the digester enhances biogas production. Today the digester produces enough electricity to supply 800 homes with their annual electric needs.

Technologies can help farms better tailor nutrient application to fields.

Panelist Nate Hartway, the environmental manager at McCormick Farms in New York, shared how the farm faced a problem spreading manure on fields around the barn because the soil phosphorus was too high. To help solve this issue, the farm installed a Livestock Water Recycling (LWR) System. The LWR has a series of filters and ponds that allows sand (used for bedding) to drop out and be reclaimed before splitting the raw manure into three components. The first is a semi-solid material that contains 100% of the phosphorus. The next is a concentrated liquid nitrogen product and the final is clean water. (That’s right, clean water…according to Nate the salesman will even drink it). Separating the manure into different components allows the farm to use specific components on different fields based on the specific needs of that field. This ensures excess nutrients are not applied to some fields, wasting the resource.

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Systems can be implemented using farm specific resources.

David Garrett, a dairyman from Idaho, discussed how his Midway Dairy developed a manure management system that integrates into the farm’s geological and climate constraints. Specifically the farm uses gravity flow separation ponds to separate the solid and liquid portions of the manure. The farm sits on shallow soils and the separation ponds were actually dug out of the bedrock. Stone chips from the excavation process were used to make a series of filters within the ponds, enhancing the separation process. Being located in a dry climate, the farm then uses the existing crop irrigation system to spread the liquids on about 2,700 acres of cropland. The solids are composted and reused for bedding before being spread on an additional 3,200 acres of cropland. The Midway Dairy system has reduced fertilizer costs and enhanced soil health through the addition of organic matter. It also has resulted in savings from not needing to purchase bedding.

The dairy industry is investing in innovative nutrient technology.

National Milk, DMI and a number of cooperatives including DFA, Agri-Mark, Land O’Lakes and Maryland-Virginia recently joined together to create a new company called Newtrient. CEO Steve Rowe talked to the audience about how Newtrient aimed to help farms find economic opportunities in manure while providing environmental benefits such as reducing the environmental footprint of manure. The company hopes to be a resource to farms in identifying effective technologies that work within a specific farm operation.